Group calls on judge to reject report on Makua

Group calls on judge to reject report on Makua

Army surveys lack critical valley data, Malama Makua says

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 13, 2009

As expected, Malama Makua asked a federal court judge yesterday to set aside the Army’s environmental impact statement justifying the continued use of the Makua Valley on the Waianae Coast for live-ammunition training.

Earthjustice, which has been representing Malama Makua since 2000, said the Army failed to prepare contamination studies and archaeological surveys of Makua Valley.

“The only studies of subsurface archaeology and marine contamination the Army did were so poorly designed that even the Army admitted they didn’t provide any meaningful information,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “This wasn’t what we agreed.”

Schofield Barracks officials declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, adding in a written statement that the Army “has satisfied its obligations required in the previous settlement agreements.”

At a briefing in Makua Valley last month, Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, said the Army hoped to resume live-fire training at the end of August. However, the Army would not say yesterday whether it is still looking at the end of the month as a start-up date, noting that the range and its roads need to be repaired since they were heavily damaged during storms in December.

Once training resumes, the military will not be using ammunition like tracer bullets and rockets, which were major causes of brush fires that initiated lawsuits from Malama Makua a decade ago.

The Army stopped live-fire training in the 4,190-acre valley in 2004, pending completion of an environmental impact statement. In June the Army completed the final version of the environmental statement.

But the advocacy group says the report falls short.

“The Army’s decision to resume training before completing the studies that are needed to find out the true cost of training at Makua is putting the cart before the horse,” Henkin said.

In a written news release, Malama Makua member Leandra Wai said: “I’ve observed training at Makua and many times have seen mortar rounds missing their targets and landing in places we know are full of ahu (shrines), petroglyphs, imu (earthen ovens), and other cultural sites. If the Army doesn’t live up to its promises and do a comprehensive survey of Makua’s cultural sites, we’ll never know what we stand to lose if the Army returns to training.”

However, last month Laurie Lucking, U.S. Army Hawaii cultural resource manager, said Army historians have identified 121 archaeological sites in the valley, including heiau, house platforms, agricultural terraces, enclosures and walls. There are also more than 40 endangered plants and animals that live there, mainly on the ridges of the Waianae Mountains.

“There is a continuous effort to find more sites so they can be identified,” she added.

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